MassHealth OKs postpartum depression screening

Providers to be reimbursed in 2016

Beginning next spring, MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, will reimburse health care providers for the costs of screening women for postpartum depression.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito made the announcement at a State House event on Monday to increase awareness of postpartum depression. The event targeted state lawmakers, health care providers, and community advocates working with pregnant women and new mothers.

Polito said that the move was designed to increase screening rates for postpartum depression. In 2013, there were about 72,000 births in Massachusetts. About half of all new Bay State mothers who have symptoms of depression seek out treatment from a health care provider.

The price tag on the MassHealth screening program is $800,000 annually; the federal government will reimburse half of the cost, according to an Executive Office of Health and Human Services spokesperson.

Only a handful of states, including Illinois, New Jersey, and West Virginia, screen all new mothers for postpartum depression. In May, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended screening patients for depression during prenatal and postpartum visits.

“Postpartum depression affects as many as 1 in 5 women in the first three months after delivery and can often lead to poor mother-child bonding as well as impacting the social and cognitive development of the child,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders in a statement. “This important MassHealth change will improve the health and well-being of mothers and their children at a critical time in their development and growth.”

The announcement surprised the audience of about 200 people who had gathered in the flag-draped Great Hall to share stories and information about an emotional disorder that affects up to 20 percent of all new mothers and up to 60 percent of low-income mothers.

“If my providers had resources to help me when I reached out during my crisis, I can only imagine that my experience with postpartum depression would have been much different,” said Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, a Topsfield resident and community advocate. Earlier this year, CommonWealth chronicled her struggles with the condition during and after the births of her two daughters. Belsito saw about 25 providers before she received appropriate treatment.  “PPD is temporary,” she said.  “Now I feel great; I look great,” she said to applause.

Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who co-chairs of the Special Legislative Commission on Postpartum Depression, said she had no inkling that Gov. Charlie Baker had reached a decision on MassHealth screening.

The Baker administration “has good dramatic sense,” Story said. “We have been working on this seven to eight years; it was perfect timing.”

Postpartum depression refers to several types of emotional complications that can affect a woman after childbirth. Many women experience “baby blues,” the mildest set of complications and depression. The most severe condition, postpartum psychosis, affects a tiny percentage of women.

Clinicians use a simple questionnaire to help determine if a woman is depressed. Last year, the state launched the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project for Moms, which helps doctors and health care providers identify at-risk women and refer them to appropriate specialists.

The MCPAP for Moms program has encouraged pediatricians to work with new mothers who show symptoms of emotional complications, according to Dr. Michael Yogman, a Cambridge pediatrician who is a member of the state commission. “Pediatricians will feel more comfortable not only screening and identifying people at-risk but will have a place to go then to provide services, treatment, and referrals for mothers who are identified as high risk,” Yogman said. Pediatricians had been reluctant to screen women since they considered the child to be their patient and often did not know what to do about a woman who screened positive.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Funding for MCPAP for Moms remains uncertain. The 2016 House budget plan cut the MCPAP program funding from $3.6 million to $3.1 million.  The Senate, meanwhile, added $500,000 to expand MCPAP for Moms services. The House and the Senate are currently reconciling the two versions of the state’s spending plan.